Sometimes a destination deserves more than just a regular tour. Sometimes I can crave deeper insight. And when looking for an intellectually stimulating visit in Rome, I found Context Travel’s tour guides to please my penchant.
The Vatican simply needs to be seen to be believed.
It’s a whole other country. In fact, it’s a world within a world. I believe they call it an ecclesiastical, one of the last six remaining absolute monarchies that is ruled entirely and completely by the Pope, Bishop of Rome.
The Vatican is a walled enclave within Rome. It’s only covers an area of 110 acres, but the line of Catholic Popes have been living there since 1929. They survive financially through postage stamps, tourist mementos, fees to the museum, and book sales.
Within the walled city are the majestic St Peter’s Basilica, the extraordinary Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums showcasing a selection of the world’s most valuable and famous art.
As I mentioned in my tips for the Colosseum, guides are your best bet for beating the long tourist queues, and our evening tour of the Vatican was no different. I happily bypassed the folks with their single tickets eagerly waiting for the opportunity to enter.
Our guide carried an art book that she flicked through highlighting to us pieces we would find inside, detailing their significance, illuminating meanings and describing characters with meticulous and loving detail. After this we entered the museum.
You can spend hours and hours in the Vatican gazing wide-eyed at art, sculptures, even the wallpaper. But for a thorough explanation and to fully appreciate the experience, then a knowledgeable tour guide can not be beaten.
The highlight of the Vatican tour was, of course, the Sistine Chapel. A hallowed hall - no talking and no cameras - just Michelangelo’s masterpiece and I in a moment where time seemed to stand still. Gazing deeply into the colourful fresco, I couldn’t help but catch the infectious passion for what this artist envisaged. The intricate details assailed the senses like a hammer made of feathers, it was intense but without injury. The absurd scale was mind-boggling. The unshakable dedication was unparalleled.
Back in 1482 the first frescos depicting the Life of Moses and the Life of Christ were painted within the Chapel. It wasn’t until 1508 that Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling. He painted from 1508 and 1512 and then returned from 1535 and 1541 to complete the rest.
Did you know that there were disputes with the fact that all the characters in the fresco were naked, so another painter was hired after Michelangelo was finished to put clothes on them. This man earned the nickname "Il Braghettone" ("the breeches painter").
These were only some of the many fascinating details that were revealed by our tour guide.
The Sistine Chapel, unquestionably, was the pinnacle of the tour (and possibly any visit to Rome) so make sure you save enough time to really soak in it’s splendour.
To be honest, I found the tour slightly overwhelming, an information overload. But I know Josh was super jealous and I had to rehash all the stories to him when I returned to London. I also know my creative-minded brother and sister would have adored this tour.
Perhaps you’ve been to the Vatican before unguided or perhaps you’re after a more in-depth experience. Perhaps you’re an art lover or are interested in the fascinating and revealing stories behind the art. Whatever tickles your fancy, the team at Context Travel can cure that itch with an evening walking tour of the Vatican.
Helpful tips: The Vatican has strict dress code requirements. No shorts of any kind. For women, knees, shoulders and upper arms must be covered. For men, no shorts or cut-off trousers/pants and again shoulders and upper arms must be covered. Also note, large bags, purses, backpacks, umbrellas (especially those with hooks) and any sharp objects will need to be deposited at the entrance, camera bags are ok.